Woodstock goes through the permit procedures
WATKINS GLEN--A reunion concert 50 years in the making now has less than five months to get its act together. Woodstock 50 has been the talk of the county and the country since it was announced in January. However, still no entertainment lineup has been named, no tickets have gone on sale and no permits have been issued.
After an email to Watkins Glen International (WGI) President Michael Printup asking about the situation went unanswered, Chris Banker, director of public relations, responded, "We are going to decline comment at this time."
However, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn spoke at length about the situation while acknowledging there is a long way to go.
"Absolutely, a tremendous amount is required," said O'Hearn, "But I'm confident they (Woodstock promoters & WGI) will be able to satisfy what is required. We are making great progress, but nothing is final."
He said while the county is the lead local agency in the process for obtaining a mass gathering permit, its planning is running in parallel with the state.
"The county's approval is contingent upon the state," said O'Hearn.
He expected plans to be firmed up by late this month.
"We (county and state) are in the process of gathering information to consider a mass gathering permit in conjunction with state regulatory agencies. Much of what the county needs is also needed by the state to issue the permit. We are meeting at least weekly if not more often, plus conference calls, with law enforcement, medical, transportation, traffic control--all the necessary sub groups."
The mass gathering permit is issued by the New York State Department of Health. Erin Silk, NYSDOH spokesperson issued the following statement, "Preliminary communications with Watkins Glen International and other stakeholders about the permit are underway; however, the New York State Department of Health Hornell District Office has not yet received a Mass Gathering Permit application for Woodstock 50."
According to Silk, applications must be submitted at least 45 days prior to the first day of the event, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 16-18. She said tickets cannot be sold prior to issuance of a permit; however, a conditional permit may be issued upon receipt of an application with supporting plans. The conditional permit would allow tickets to be sold during the review and approval process.
O'Hearn said Schuyler County will also likely be the lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process beginning in April. This multi-step process alone could take weeks to complete.
Michael Lang is the promoter for the event and WGI, as hosting venue, is the actual applicant. Lang was one of the original founders of the Woodstock concert held in 1969.
O'Hearn said WGI's involvement gives the county "a high level of confidence" since WGI regularly holds mass events at the track successfully.
He said he was very confident of the ability to contain concert goers and secure the perimeter, noting that New York State Police are expected to provide security, supplemented by private companies.
What will be the attendance at Woodstock 50?
The original in 1969 near Bethel, New York, attracted more than 400,000 people. Though only 164,000 tickets were sold for the 25th anniversary in Saugerties, New York, in 1994, an estimated 550,000 fans showed up. Another anniversary concert in 1999 at the former Griffiths Air Force Base in Rome, New York, reportedly drew approximately 400,000 people. And, of course, estimates for attendance at the famed Summer Jam at the Watkins Glen track in 1973 have run as high as 700,000.
All four of these epic events received considerable media attention for the disorderly behavior of participants and difficulties with security, illegal drugs, health emergencies and clean up problems.
Published reports have predicted that Woodstock 50 will offer 100,000 tickets for sale, but O'Hearn wasn't so sure.
"It will be based on the capacity to pull this off. Attendance will be capped and probably at 100,000 or less, maybe way less," said O'Hearn. "It needs to be a number the venue can safely support and then build the event around that."
For perspective, past PHISH concerts had about 35,000 and NASCAR races draw up to 100,000. Earlier Formula One races drew as many as 200,000 people to the legendary track.
"We understand this is an iconic event and there is cachet with the Woodstock brand," said O'Hearn, "But times have changed within the music concert world."
He said the frequency of larger music festivals, such as Coachella, Lollapalooza and others, is causing individual ones to draw smaller crowds.
Much will depend on the entertainment lineup, which has yet to be formally announced. Both Billboard and Variety magazines, among others, have reported sources as saying acts could include Dead & Company, The Killers, Miley Cyrus, Santana, The Black Keys, Chance the Rapper, Jay-Z and Imagine Dragons.
Lang has stated publicly several times that the line-up and ticket sales will both be announced soon, maybe any day now.
A spot check of local hotels and motels showed some sold out for the August dates of Woodstock 50, but others still with rooms available. O'Hearn pointed out much of the local lodging has been booked by the production companies, not fans.
"There will be a production team in the thousands, many of the hotel rooms are being booked by these companies," he said.
This was underscored by Linda Franzese at the Glen Motor Inn. "We've had a number of inquiries, but still have availability. A number of people are waiting until they have their tickets before booking," said Franzese.
O'Hearn wanted to reassure local residents with angst that the area will not be overwhelmed by "another Summer Jam."
"There's a big difference between the 1970s and now. The regulations and planning structure have changed and it's a different place in the music world."
"Will people be inconvenienced that weekend? Of course, just like on a sold-out NASCAR event. But we take our responsibility to county residents very seriously and we are giving this event the utmost scrutiny before considering the permit."
All of this leaves a lot of people waiting to see if and how "the bird of peace" will land here this summer.
(The Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce did not respond to multiple attempts for comment on this story.)